Back in the day, my commute was pretty much the entire length of the island. It took a good 20 to 30 minutes depending on traffic and whether I was behind a truck in the mountains.
Under different circumstances I probably would have hated such a long commute. I didn’t. I actually liked it. One, it’s a beautiful drive with some of the most breathtaking views in the world. The other main reason was it gave me a chance to run all my errands on the way home so that once I set foot in my house I didn’t have to go back out unless I wanted to. I could make my to-do/to-get list and plot a route from East to West to North. I enjoyed trying to figure out how to link together all the places I had to go. It was like a game.
Of course you may be wondering why I had so many stops to make. It wasn’t every day. It was just usual household stuff, groceries, things I may have needed for work, gas and other car stuff, the occasional bill to pay or discuss — you know, errands. My husband and I are teachers, and that means you know a lot about budgeting and finding a good deal.
It would have been nice to just go into Kmart and Grand Union — remember the grocery store? — and get what I needed. Many times that just wasn’t possible. Either they didn’t have it or it was at a price I didn’t want to pay. I learned quickly, something you know when you grow up somewhere. I figured out the network of local stores, vendors and farmer’s markets to get what I needed at a price I could afford.
Patronizing local stores had an even greater benefit. Eventually you got to know the people who worked there and even some of the regular customers. You begin to see those faces around town and in places outside of the business and suddenly the sense of community feels stronger.
There are people I know and trust and who I would lend aid without a moment’s thought, and whose names I don’t even know because the only way I know them is because I see them when I shop on a regular basis. That’s what shopping local does for you. It connects you to the community. You don’t get that feeling when you only live on the outskirts or stick to the megabrand corporations.
Even with the more corporate places, however, there is still the local connection with the workers you see every time you shop. Your patronage gives them a job and allows them to live in the community and help it grow.
Island life is very interdependent. Just as much as I liked that my shopping at all my various local spots got me what I wanted, I also liked that I was doing my part to support my community and the businesses on which we all depend. We all have that power.
We are about to enter the holiday shopping season. For many businesses in the Virgin Islands, these next three or four months will make or break their year.
This year will be unlike any seen in generations. The tourism and home for the holidays money that they count on won’t be coming like they are accustomed to. Conversely, many of you have had to cancel plans to travel off island for some or even all of the holidays and are now facing being at home.
All these months, almost a year, we have been supporting one another. Now is not the time to stop. Instead, challenge yourself to shop small. Find a new spot to get something you need. Try a new vendor for your gifts. Seek out local artisans for your decorations.
Back in the day, I would have loved nothing more than to be able to sit on my couch and order all the things I needed to come to my P.O. Box. Going around to all my spots, however, made me be more conscious about what I bought and, more importantly, from whom I bought. Shopping local makes it easier to see your money circulate in your community. You see your neighbors employed. You see local social services being supported. You see the symbiotic relationship between business and customer and how it benefits everyone.
We rise and fall together. It was true then and it’s true now more than ever.
— Mariel Blake is a Daily News columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.